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New York gun law hangs in the balance: Supreme Court Justices hear first gun case in a decade

Published: Nov. 3, 2021 at 4:24 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - The Supreme Court justices heard the first gun case in a decade Wednesday, as a New York’s regulation hangs in the balance.

It’s unclear just how broad the scope of the justices’ decision will be, but they devoted nearly twice as much time as usual interrogating both sides of this case.

The question before the court is clear: can New York require gun owners to show a personal need for self-defense in order to carry a concealed weapon?

But, American and English legal tradition are murkier, with both sides arguing history supports their case.

“The text of the second amendment enshrines not just a right to keep arms, but to bear them,” said Attorney Paul Clement, representing two gun owners and the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association.

Clement argues New York’s law is unconstitutional. He told the court licensing citizens in good standing to conceal carry in public should be the default, not the exception.

“It is the difference between regulating constitutionally protected activity, and attempting to convert a fundamental constitutional right into a privilege,” said Clement.

New York Solicitor General Barbara Underwood argued the opposite. “What the law does is recognize a right, but it recognizes it subject to regulation,” she said.

Underwood argued the second amendment must be balanced with concern for public safety, especially in big cities.

She and spokespeople for state Attorney General Letitia James said local officials can legally be trusted to determine whether a conceal carry applicant has a legitimate need.

“This is about preventing New York from becoming the next Sandy Hook, the next Parkland, the next Orlando, the next Las Vegas, the next community devastated by gun violence,” said Fabien Levy, Sr. Advisor to N.Y. Attorney General Lettia James.

The Biden administration’s Department of Justice also had New York’s back in court.

The justices are expected to decide whether to strike down the state law – and potentially six others like it across the country -- by next summer.

Many court watchers expect the justices to split along their six-three conservative majority, but legal briefs filed by outside groups haven’t done so along stereotypical divisions.

A group of public defenders argue New York’s law unevenly exposes minorities to criminal charges. Another group, comprised of Republican attorneys, defend New York’s law, arguing a similar gun restriction in D.C. may have prevented violence at the Capitol Riot from being worse.

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